One Thousand Scents

Friday, April 28, 2006

Either/Or: Givenchy Organza Indecence

Yesterday I mentioned, in passing, Givenchy's Organza Indecence, and that got me to thinking about the very strangeness of that fragrance. The first time I smelled Indecence, I was floored. This is a women's scent? This jagged spice-rack collage?

Indecence, despite the advertising bumf about its femininity, is a remarkably unisex scent: mostly spices and patchouli, with woods, ambergris, and a little vanilla at the end. The spices and woods aren't subtle, either, not the soft blur of Coco by Chanel but a hard-edged, aggressive spiciness. There isn't a flower in sight, nothing to soften the blow. The only thing that even remotely suggests it might be a scent aimed at women is the oops-my-dress-blew-open naked-lady bottle: if they took the word "Organza" out of the name and put it in a bottle shaped like a scrimshaw tooth or a Bugatti they could easily sell it to men as is. (Indecence resembles, more than a little, Yves Saint Laurent's bristly Opium Pour Homme, not to mention the attack-dog spiciness of Comme des Garçons' first scent.)

Some reviewers think of Indecence as feminine ("It's an entirely feminine scent, no doubt about it"). I say it's whatever you want it to be--the very definition of unisex, no?


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Light My Fire: Spark and Spark for Men

I kind of like Liz Claiborne scents. They're generally affordable--some would say "cheap", I know--and approachable--some would say "obvious" or "rip-offs". But I like inexpensive scents sometimes, because it means I can have more of them, and I like strange and interesting fragrances, but sometimes, really a lot of the time, I want something that smells good and is easy to love, which is certainly the case with both Spark and Spark for Men.

Spark for Men opens with a shot of spiced rum with a hint of a dry fig note and the sweetness of honey. It smells like an exotic tropical drink, probably not one I'd down--I'm a gin-and-tonic man--but one I wouldn't mind smelling like. Spark supposedly opens with a champagne note, which I don't get at all (it's probably just a little fizz of aldehydes, nothing particularly strong), but it does have a brief honeyed-rose smell that quickly fades and isn't particularly rosy anyway. In both scents, the spicy oriental middle notes are already blooming up from under the top notes within minutes.

After the top notes die down, Spark smells very much like Organza Indecence, with a tinge of orchids and some of the sharper edges buffed down, while Spark for Men smells very much like Halston Catalyst for Men, with somewhat less clove.

Except for a distinct, very lovely honey note, the two scents don't smell much alike until the drydown, when they become nearly identical clouds of sandalwood, vanilla, and ambergris, not surprising for oriental scents. However, right out of the bottle, they complement one another beautifully--more so than I've ever experienced in his-and-hers scents. (Obsession and Obsession for Men side by side aren't altogether pleasant.) So I usually wear the two Sparks together, one spritz on each hand.

Liz Claiborne does lots of brand extension--the original Curve was soon joined by Curve Crush, Soul by Curve, and Curve Wave--and that's true of Spark, too: the following year saw Spark Seduction, which struck me as possibly the most pointless name imaginable, because the original Sparks, both of them, are already as seductive as they need to be.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Lumberjack: Hermes Rocabar

One of the best ways to ensure that a man's scent is manly enough is to overdose it with outdoorsy smells. As long as there aren't any flowers in the mix--at least none that are individually discernible--you're golden. This is the tack that Hermes Rocabar takes.

The top is all outdoors: juniper berries and cedar needles, a little zap of lavender and spices. It has no evident citrus notes, but it's bright and sparkly, almost piercing, for all that. The middle is all about trees: cedar, cypress, and fir, dry and quietly majestic. (It's meant to suggest the outdoors, all trees and earth, because it's named after a Hermes horse-blanket: you can see a miniature version of that blanket wrapped around the bottle.)

But Rocabar plays a little trick on its wearers. The top and middle notes are unimpeachably masculine, but underneath it all is a carpet of soft, dreamy vanilla--nothing like the brutish vanilla of Opium pour Homme--bolstered with ambergris and (I think) benzoin. It's a real shock to find something so warm and sweet lurking under all the dry woodsman's notes. There's nothing unmasculine about vanilla, god knows: but anyone expecting base notes of leather, tobacco, or oakmoss is in for a surprise. The drydown is marvellously unisex: warm, supple, inviting. It's unexpected, yes, but it's also the perfect ending to a remarkable scent.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Outside Inside: Salvatore Ferragamo Pour Homme

Once I was reading an article about wine tasting and marvelling at the multitude of notes that oenophiles can detect in wine; it sometimes seems as if it must be at least one tenth bullshit (a concoction of fermented grapes smells like roses and toast and wet wool and cardboard?), but what do I know? I'm not a trained professional. I was amused by at least one description: "barny". I instantly understood what that means, having been in more than a few barns in my time (horse-racing: it's a long story).

The first time I smelled Salvatore Ferragame Pour Homme, that word came to mind again, because "barny" is the perfect word to describe it. The top note is swamped by bone-dry fig, instantly calling to mind that musty, earthy barn smell. The rest of the top note burns off quickly, but the fig lingers while dry spices (mostly cardamom, I think, and some cumin), vetivert, and cedar well up from underneath, bringing the odours of dirt and wood and a brave hint of decomposition.

It doesn't smell exactly like a barn, not quite: no leather harnesses or rusting iron, no horse sweat and droppings. It's a fantasy idea of a barn (strange idea!), all desiccated timbers and crumbly earthen floors, hay and grit. It is strange and unexpected and, if you can adjust to the aridity, remarkably beautiful.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Everything: Bulgari Omnia

I was reading a new posting on Just Smell This and had gotten to the comments when I was astonished to read this exchange:

Writer A) someone needs to come out with Eau de Eau - featuring ice water accord - maybe throw in some humming refrigerator accord, glacial accord....

Writer B) I have some I could sell you this very instant, in an attractive green glass bottle for, ooh, just £25 for 250ml. I'm taking a *small* markup of course.

Writer C) Bvlgari have already tried this wheeze. It's called Omnia.

Writer D) *weeps for my poor Omnia*

Writer C) *rolls eyes* Just cos you are one of the Favoured Ones who can smell the stuff! (I'm still not convinced, LOL).

I'm flabbergasted that anyone can't smell Omnia by Bulgari. I mean, anything is possible, I suppose, but Omnia has real presence, and it just seems strange to me that anyone mightn't be able to distinguish it from water. It''s an oriental scent with all the warmth and body that that entails, but it's also unlike anything else on the market. (The same is true of that stunning bottle, a pair of eternally linked circles. Some people hate the use of plastic in the bottle, but it doesn't bother me a bit; sometimes you have to make compromises for your art, and that includes fragrance-bottle designers.)

Omnia is marketed as a women's scent, but there's not a thing in it to mark it as such. It's completely, maybe show-offily, linear: it heads out of the bottle as a warm, soft, buttery-smooth mixture of white chocolate and sandalwood plus the medicinal warmth of saffron, studded with tea and bitingly spicy notes (black pepper, mostly, plus ginger and cardamom), and that's how it stays. It's a wonderful balancing act: each half, the spiky and the smooth, perpetually threatens to overtake the other, but never quite manages to until the very end, when it trails off with a sigh of sandalwood and vanilla.

It not only sits well on my skin: it suits me perfectly, without fail. It seems to reflect my personality. Some days I wear a scent depending on how I feel, and other days I wear one to make me feel the way I'd like to be feeling (something like Catalyst for Men to give me confidence, or CSP Vanille Amande to smooth out the rough edges): but Omnia is in a small group of fragrances that always makes me smell exactly as I want to smell.


Friday, April 21, 2006

All Outdoors: Perry Ellis America

The gimmick, if it is one, of Perry Ellis America is that it's composed entirely of things that grow natively in the United States; no exotica like vanilla and myrrh here. It's clearly meant to be a fresh, clean, all-outdoors smell, and that's exactly what it is The notes are as follows:

Top Notes
Fresh Anise, Pineapple, Sage, Bergamot, Green Fern

Middle Notes
Juniper, Lavender, Geranium, Basil, Palma Rosa, Vetiver

Base Notes
Neroli, Cedar, Amber, Musk, Sandalwood, Napa Leather Tone.

The top does have a quick, juicy wham of pineapple, but it's dominated by a bright green fir-needle scent as an introduction to the overall fougere structure. The middle is straight fougere: lavender, vetivert, and green herbal notes. It fades very quickly: there's little left but base notes after two hours or so, mostly musk and sandalwood, and the whole thing has vanished in less than eight.

This sounds in many ways similar to yesterday's Perry Man--citrus, juniper, lavender, cedar, sandalwood--but the composition and the execution are so much better; Perry Ellis America has an honest, unsynthetic cleanliness about it. It's not a great scent, not a classic, but for the price (I paid $6.99 Canadian for a one-ounce bottle) and for the unselfconscious charm of it, it's worth having.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Snarl: Perry Man by Perry Ellis

There have been a couple of scents over the years that have literally made me lunge back from the tester in revulsion. Perry Man by Perry Ellis isn't one of them, but it is one that I can tell quickly isn't for me, and even when, as I usually do, I stubbornly try it two or three times anyway, my first impression is hardly ever wrong. (It has been; some scents you have to grow into, which is what happened with Hermes Bel Ami, a scent I have to write about sometime.)

The most unpleasant thing about Perry Man is the top note, which, according to the manufacturer's info, contains juniper berry, cypress, fennel, nutmeg, and citrus notes. It doesn't smell like fennel, an anisic smell I love, but it does smell bitingly synthetic--a piercing jangle of citrus notes alongside something that smells like artificial apple flavour and a few jabs of herbs and spices. The smell immediately announces itself as yet another entry in the already over-represented men's fresh scent category, most of which I find uninteresting; but few of them are as decidedly unpleasant as this one. The middle is meant to be cedar and lavender, but the top notes hang around for far too long (or perhaps they simply stick in my nose), muting anything that follows: the middle notes do eventually emerge, but they remain contaminated with that nasty top.

The whole thing smells like a tangle of aroma-chemicals, not so much constructed or composed as spilled together. It resembles one of those cheap body sprays they're hawking to teenage boys these days; it certainly doesn't smell like anything high-end, not from the house that produced the original Perry Ellis for men, Perry Ellis Reserve, or (tomorrow's topic) Perry Ellis America. They get credit for an interesting package, with a bottle that subtly fits together with the women's version and a smart-looking metal canister to tuck it into, but that's about it.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

All Man: Perry Ellis Reserve

I am slavishly addicted to warm, oriental, ambery scents, but I still have a place in my heart for the classic men's fragrance: something fresh and hesperidic at the top, herbal or otherwise aromatic in the middle, and subdued and woody in the base. This is probably why I was instantly smitten by Perry Ellis Reserve, which is pretty much a perfect scent in a gorgeous, minimalist bottle (so gorgeous that it was originally used for Perry Ellis' 360 for Men and then again for 360 Blue, 360 Red, 360 White....).

The opener is a shock of grapefruit--probably my favourite citrus note--alongside bergamot, lavender, and something called "champagne lifescent", which is a silly name but may well contribute to the sparkle of the top notes. This burns away quickly, as citrus notes tend to do, leaving a luminous halo of muted floral notes (fresh carnation and a little rose, plus the jasmine derivative hedione) butched up with herbal notes, predominantly my beloved tarragon. The middle of the scent proves that even highly floral scents can be masculine if they're treated with respect and restraint; just look at the jasmine-saturated Rochas Man, which uses coffee and cedar to darken and subdue the jasmine. The base notes are, as expected, wood and amber notes, with just a little oakmoss, not enough to turn it into a chypre but enough to give the base a dark-brown honeyed undertone. It's just about the perfect office scent: it's subtle enough to avoid offending anyone, but it's there.

Some of the Perry Ellis scents are good, some are so-so, and some are absolutely heinous (more on that tomorrow), but Reserve is the real deal: a classically constructed scent that still manages to be distinctive.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Into the Woods: Jacques Fath Pour L'Homme

A few years ago, someone with whom I was regularly swapping fragrances sent me a sample of Jacques Fath Pour L'Homme, which I'd never even heard of. I was immediately captivated by its dry warmth, and used the sample as sparingly as possible. So imagine my surprise when, one day while visiting Toronto, I spotted a bottle of it in one of those little perfume boutiques that seem to spring up and then vanish a year later. One quick haggle with the clerk later (I was hesitating over the price, she offered it to me tax-free, sold!) and I had a bottle of the precious stuff.

Another aficionado once described it to me as "Samsara without the jasmine", and that's a great description, at least of the middle and base notes. The top contains, I think, mint, lavender, and a few other leafy green notes, but even at the very beginning the enormous middle note is looming up: it's sandalwood, towering and resonant, dominating the scent almost until its very end. (It's not pure sandalwood: there are other woods in there, probably rosewood and cedar. But it's all about the sandalwood.) The base notes, which I can still smell traces of almost twenty-four hours and several hand-washings later, are the usual components of an oriental scent, ambergris and something vanillic, probably Peru or tolu balsam.

The bottle is a rather Victorian affair: a big, blocky glass monolith with faceted edges and a spare silvery cap. (Oddly, it's packaged in a silver-flecked grey box of flexible plastic with slots and tabs that let it unfold like a diagram.) The scent isn't Victorian in the least, though: it's dark and unflashy, but sensual for all that: it reaches out to people. Last night, a co-worker who hates most scents took an eyes-closed sniff and said, "It smells...flirty." Not necessarily the word I would have chosen ("seductive", maybe), but she gave it the thumbs-up, and so do I.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Top Hat: Stetson by Coty

One night eight or ten years ago, probably a year before we bought Casual Friday, Jim and I were talking about scent--not a topic of much interest to him, and I can't remember how or why the subject arose. I suppose I must have asked him if he hated every scent, and he said that there were a few he didn't mind and one he actually liked, something a co-worker had worn that he thought was very sexy. He wasn't sure of the name, but he was pretty sure it was Stetson. I was curious to see if he actually liked something, because that sure hadn't been my experience up until then, so we went to the drugstore and he sniffed the tester, and sure enough, that was the one. Not only did he not hate it: he liked it enough to buy a bottle.

He never did wear it much--applying fragrance just goes against his grain--and then, naturally, I inherited it. It's undeniable proof that an inexpensive scent doesn't have to be cheap, that "drugstore scent" isn't necessarily a pejorative.

It's pure masculinity: with a name like Stetson, it had better be. The top note is the usual assemblage of citrus notes and something briefly resinous and piney. These burn off in ten or fifteen minutes, leaving it to rapidly settle down and assume the character it's going to maintain until the end: warm, somewhat sweet, a mélange of the deep manly notes of perfumery--leather and tobacco, ambergris and a touch of patchouli. The drydown is, unsurprisingly, ambergris and a little vanilla, here in the form of tonka bean.

It's too sweet for some people (but not nearly as sweet as the candylike Lagerfeld or some of the gourmand scents of nowadays), and others will simply turn their noses up at something that can be found in every drugstore and Wal-Mart, but I'd never hold that against it. It's been around for twenty-five years, and it must be doing something right.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

...Or Friday Night: Escada Casual Friday

Jim, my other half--eighteen years and counting--hates commercial fragrances. (Many of them contain synthetics that give him headaches; he thinks the glorious Ambre Precieux "smells like something burning".) I suppose for him it's like living with a smoker. A couple of times I've spilled a few drops of scent (here's one story) and it hasn't been pleasant for him. I generally only wear anything when he's not around: luckily, I have a very irregular work schedule--not erratic, just unpredictable--so I do get to indulge myself.

There have only ever been two commercial scents that Jim's liked enough to put on his skin. One of them was the sadly discontinued Casual Friday: luckily, I have not one but two bottles of the stuff, so I'll have it for a while. (You can also find it on eBay.) Shortly after its launch in 1999, we were walking though a department store when Jim said, "What's that smell?" I knew from the way he said it that he wasn't revolted by it, in fact interested by it, and naturally I was amazed. I sniffed the air and, since I had already sampled it (of course) and immediately recognized it, told him what it was called. I couldn't quite believe my eyes: we walked over to the counter, and he actually sprayed some on a blotter and sniffed it. Then he sniffed it again. And then we bought some.

Naturally enough, it smelled very good on him; the gourmand spiciness suited him perfectly. He didn't think it smelled good on me, though, so I never wore it, at least not when he was around. After wearing it occasionally for a few months, he tired of it, and that was the end of that. But I still have it and love it.

The mildly redundant list of notes on Basenotes promises cedar, cedarwood, patchouli, cinnamon, aniseed, licorice, cotton flower, cardamom, cloves, amber, vanilla. (These don't seem to be in any particular order.) Casual Friday erupts in a blaze of spices, most prominently the cinnamon and cloves, plus a curry-like note which must be from (at least partly) the cardamom. The sharp edges of the spices are quickly smoothed over by the ascension of a licorice note--not sweet candy-store licorice, but the scent of licorice root, dry and masculine--which dominates the middle, and an equally masculine floral note. (It may be cotton flower, but it also suggests the carnation, probably because of the clove note which remains from the top.) If there's ambergris in there, it's subtle; the drydown is little but vanilla, to my nose. That curry note in the top is a little strange, but on the whole Casual Friday is very friendly, very accessible; not, perhaps, a classical men's fragrance, but still appealing. The oddest thing about it, really, is the name: it doesn't seem like an office sort of scent at all, but more like a sexy, almost edible evening scent, something that says, "Nibble me".

Next up: the only other scent Jim's ever worn.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Flower Pow(d)er: FlowerbyKenzo

In the late 1980s, clothier Kenzo released a stunningly good eponymous scent, a floral which had not only the standard top-middle-base construction but also levels within those divisions; the middle seemed to change and evolve perpetually on the skin. (The bottle was baffling: a pale gold-green fluid rested inside a stack of uneven, moss-covered rocks topped by a flower. It was a very strange, almost mutant bottle for a very beautiful scent.) A decade later he released FlowerbyKenzo, which if anything is even better, but in the opposite way; rather than being composed of intricate layers, the whole thing reveals itself immediately and only slowly and minimally changes.

The top announces itself as a powdery floral, and it's really powdery: it smells very much like Johnson's Baby Powder, that soft, innocent vanillic scent that virtually every North American would recognize. Alongside it are the distinct scent of violets and roses and just a hint of a biting edge provided by hawthorn. (It's reminiscent of Givenchy's L'Interdit, which also opens with a salvo of rose and violet; but L'Interdit bolsters the flowers with the shimmer of brilliant aldehydes rather than subduing them under a carpet of powder.) At the same time, the whole thing has a diffuse brightness--a glow--probably provided by the jasmine derivative hedione. The powder very gradually subsides but always maintains a presence, as vanilla has a way of doing. The whole composition isn't complicated, but its beauty is in its simplicity and its balance.

I haven't been a big fan of all of Kenzo's scents (not that I've tried them all). Both Kenzo Homme and Parfum D'Ete were too sharp, Kashaya was simply nondescript, and the jury's still out on KenzoAir but I expected a lot more from a scent that's supposed to have anise in both the top and middle notes; it just seems like another fresh-ozonic scent. But FlowerbyKenzo is glorious.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Breath of Spring: Yves Rocher Homme Nature

So there I was yesterday, in the middle of writing a post, and I stepped away for a few minutes. When I returned, I discovered that A Very Bad Thing had happened to my computer. An hour and a half of frustrating experimentation suggested that the Very Bad Thing involved the USB ports--all three of them!--becoming discombobulated in some way. Two phone calls later, I had arranged to have The Very Bad Thing fixed (thank you, one-year warranty!), and here I am, thanking my lucky stars that I hadn't given away or sold or otherwise disposed of my previous Mac, which, naturally enough, still works perfectly (but after four years seemed a little slow and otherwise limited compared to this lovely creature).

We now return you to your previously scheduled fragrance review, courtesy of this stalwart workhorse.


I hate cucumbers. I hate the astringent taste of them, I hate the sound they make (that wet crunch! yuck!), and most of all I hate the way they smell. Yet, perversely enough, I really love two scents that have cucumber as an introductory note: Todd Oldham and Yves Rocher Homme Nature.

Just as Yves Rocher's Nature Millenaire Pour Homme is one of my autumn mainstays, Homme Nature is something I bring out every spring, because there's hardly anything more springlike. Straight out of the bottle it's a rainy garden of growing things: green leaves, cucumber, a little mint, the bracing smell of watercress, and some remarkably transparent spice notes. It manages to be fresh and invigorating without resorting to that tired ozonic note that nearly every fresh fragrance for the last twenty years has employed.

Most scents last a long time on my skin, but this one's an exception: it burns out within a few hours, leaving a bare trace of sandalwood that I can only smell very close by. But is that such a bad thing? It never gets a chance to offend anyone or overstay its welcome. I'll gladly take four or five hours of this over twelve hours of something less interesting.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Awakening: Versace The Dreamer

From today's Washington Post, "Teen Boys Picking Up On A Scent", an article about teenage boys and Axe or other douse-yourself fragrances.

Axe is not the only brand out there. More established scents -- think Dad's stocking stuffer circa 1975 -- have repositioned their products to appeal to a younger generation. Old Spice has a line called Red Zone. Gillette launched a body spray called Tag in 2004.

But the boys at Loiederman Middle will tell you Axe is their fragrance of choice. "It smells good, and it's cheap," said Nic Weinfeld, 12.

Brett Goyne, a physical education teacher at Loiederman, said he noticed the body sprays turning up about three years ago. Before that, he can't remember seeing a middle school boy use anything except maybe the occasional stick of deodorant.

"It's priced perfect for the middle school student," he said of the body sprays. "But, boy, if they sweat a lot and then put it on -- ohhhh -- it just takes over the whole locker room."

I've run into the scented-deodorant thing before; I knew one teenaged boy who carried one around with him wherever he went, not because he had body odour but because it was an easy, relatively discreet way to apply a scent.

As for Axe and its ilk, I've told more than one despairing mom, "Tell them to spend twice as much and wear half as much." Or I suppose in this case spend eight to ten times as much. They're never too young to learn the virtue of subtlety, and if they have to wear a scent, why should it be what everyone else is wearing? Perhaps it's another rite of passage that parents will have to coach their kids through: shopping for, trying out, and buying one or two really good, really worth-it scents rather than a bucketload of plonk.


Versace The Dreamer is not plonk, to say the least. It's off-kilter and magnetic and it takes a while to get--not the sort of thing you sniff in the department store and say "Nice!" about, certainly not the sweet, approachable scent you might expect from the name.

The top is a bristly melange of herbs, predominantly the anisic tang of tarragon, one of my favourite fragrance notes (Van Cleef and Arpels Tsar also has it). But mixed in with this are two strange, strange notes. One is something odd and unplaceable that reminds me of gasoline. It doesn't smell like gasoline exactly, but without fail that's what it calls to mind. The second is a bitter note that suggests chamomile; it's the same bitterness that made me hate Hermes' Bel Ami for about ten years before I suddenly understood and fell immoderately in love with it.

Basenotes' list of notes for The Dreamer tallies "juniper, lily, iris, tobacco, amber, tarragon". Another, from Osmoz, promises "clary sage, lavender, mandarin, mace, tobacco, geranium, carnation, rose, vetiver, Atlas cedar, tonka bean, and balsam fir". I don't smell many of these things distinctly, except for the tarragon; there's a tobacco-ness about the drydown, but I'd never call The Dreamer a tobacco scent--it's much more complex than that, and the tobacco is only a part of its appeal.

Is the heart of the scent primarily lily, as the Basenotes list says? Some think so, but scent can be a real Rorschach test--different people see (or, in this case, smell) different things. What I smell is a hazy, sort-of-floral middle--nothing as specific as lily or carnation--with much of the top notes' prickliness unexpectedly lingering, and then a soft, intimate drydown like a memory. This would be a harder sell for most teenagers--most people--than something as obvious as Axe or the latest Tommy Hilfiger, but a shot of The Dreamer would let any smart, reasonably sophisticated teenager boy stand out in the crowd.